Friday, February 3, 2012

Ragip Zarakolu, Publishing in Defiance

My mom would say that the difference between a leader and a martyr is about three feet. I've been cautioned to count my steps and to make my steps count.  

Epictetus said it similarly: "Silence is safer than speech.

Today's story is about a man who has chosen to lay down his personal freedom to talk about how others' freedoms (and lives) were taken.

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." George Washington

Ragıp Zarakolu is a Turkish human rights activist and publisher who has repeatedly faced prison for publishing books on controversial subjects especially on minority and human rights in Turkey. Some hail him.  Others condemn him.  I choose to profile him as a story about the fire that speech brings.

His most recent November arrest was for giving a public speech on the Kurdish issue in Istanbul in 2010 at the political academy of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). A secret witness informed against him, according to Kilic.

His bio on wiki says that Ragıp Zarakolu was born in 1948, the son of a district governor on Büyükada close to Istanbul and became a writer. In 1971 a military junta assumed power in Turkey. Ragıp Zarakolu was tried on charges of secret relations to Amnesty International. He spent five months in prison, before the charges were dropped. In 1972 Ragıp Zarakolu was sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment for his article in the journal Ant (Pledge) on Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam War. He stayed in Selimiye Prison (Istanbul) and was released in 1974 following a general amnesty.[2]   He "attitude of respect for different thoughts and cultures to become widespread in Turkey".

The Belge Publishing House, established in Istanbul in 1977 by Zarakolu and his wife Ayşenur, has been a focus for Turkish censorship laws ever since. Charges brought against the couple resulted in imprisonment for both Ayşenur and Ragıp Zarakolu, the wholesale confiscation and destruction of books and the imposition of heavy fines.

In 1979 Ragıp Zarakolu was one of the founders of the daily newspaper Demokrat and took responsibility for the news desk on foreign affairs. The paper was banned with the military coup of 12 September 1980 and Ragıp Zarakolu was shortly imprisoned in 1982 in connection with this position.   He was banned from leaving the country between 1971 and 1991.

In 1986 he became one of 98 founders of the Human Rights Association in Turkey (HRA or in Turkish IHD). For some time Ragıp Zarakolu chaired the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN in Turkey. Currently (beginning of 2007) he chairs the Committee for Freedom of Publication in the Union of Publishers. In 1995 the Belge Publishing House offices were firebombed, and he began publishing in a cellar. His portfolio includes books on the Armenian Genocide,  (George Jerjian's The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenians and Turks Reconciled and Professor Dora Sakayan's An Armenian Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922) and David Gaunt's book "Massacres, resistance, protectors" about the Assyrian Genocide  ("Katliamlar, Direniş, Koruyucular"), leading to charges in 2005 and 2007. 

"To suppress free speech is a double wrong.
It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker."  ---Frederick Douglass